Can you travel to Scotland? Covid-19 Update [May 2021]

can you travel to scotland update

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Updated when anything changes. Last updated: May 1, 2021.

A question I am asked almost every day is when can you travel to Scotland?

I know that the latest information from official sources can be hard to digest and it often raises more questions- so I have done the hard work for you and trawled the internet to present you with the most up-to-date information in an easily digestible way.

Please note information can change daily, and the most up-to-date information will always be on the Scottish Government and NHS websites. I have provided links to the official sources below. Be sure to check your own government travel advisories for updated information too.

This article is intended for overseas visitors planning a trip to Scotland but there is information that locals will find useful. There is also helpful information here for those who need to get to Scotland for essential purposes [such as visiting a sick relative, moving home or for other personal reasons].

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If you spot any errors in this post, please leave a comment at the bottom of this article and I’ll amend it. If you have any questions, please ask these in the comments too and I can update this post.

Latest Information

Update 30/04/2021: Scotland reopens for locals
Scotland has now moved down to Level 3 and reopened restaurants, pubs, non-essential shops, tours and attractions for locals. Restrictions are in place including social distancing, wearing a face mask while inside, and there are strict rules on alcohol being served. Pubs and restaurants are also closing early. There still isn’t a date for international travel yet- but there will be another announcement on May 17th. Keep checking this page for updates!

Update 13/04/2021: Scottish Government update
-Further restrictions will ease on April 16th. People in Scotland will be able to move around the entire country [you must stay outside only, accommodation, pubs and restaurants will not open until April 26]
-Travel restrictions between Scotland, England and Wales will end on April 26, so locals can travel throughout the UK
-The Scottish Islands are to stay in Level 3 until May 17
-The entire country will be in Level 2 from May 17
-Up to 6 people from 6 different households can meet outside from April 16th.
-International travel is still a risk, restrictions will be in place longer [there is currently no end date for this]

Update 30/03/21: Dates for attractions opening

National Trust For Scotland: Most properties will be opening up in spring. Read more here.

Historic Scotland: ”From Friday 30 April, we will open over 200 of our outdoor unstaffed and key keeper sites which are free to access. We will be opening our ticketed sites in phases starting from Friday 30 April when we will open up the 27 sites listed below. Further sites will reopen on a phased basis over the coming months. Our reopening plans consider circumstances in local areas, whilst providing a diverse range of experiences for our members and visitors to enjoy, as Scotland’s tourism and leisure sector reopens.

Sites opening from Friday 30 April:
Aberdour Castle, Arbroath Abbey, Blackness Castle, Caerlaverock Castle, Craigmillar Castle, Dirleton Castle, Doune Castle, Dryburgh Abbey, Dumbarton Castle, Dunblane Cathedral, Dundonald Castle, Dunfermline Abbey, Edinburgh Castle, Elgin Cathedral, Fort George, Glasgow Cathedral, Huntly Castle, Inchcolm Abbey, Jedburgh Abbey, Linlithgow Palace, Melrose Abbey, Skara Brae, St Andrew’s Castle, St Andrew’s Cathedral, Stirling Castle, Tantallon Castle, Urquhart Castle. More info available on the Historic Scotland website: https://www.historicenvironment.scot/

Update 16/03/21: Restrictions are easing!

On the 16th of March, the Scottish Government announced that lockdown restrictions will start to be lifted in April. Here’s a summary:

5 April – Hairdressers can reopen
Scotland residents can travel around the council region where they live and up to 5 miles over the border
From 26 April – Those under Level 4 restrictions will move down to a modified Level 3; those under Level 3 restrictions will move down to Level 2
Travel restrictions in and out of Scotland are scheduled to end [locals can travel around Scotland again!]
Accommodation to reopen
Cafes, pubs, and restaurants can open until 8pm indoors, but not serve alcohol. Outdoor drinking will be permitted until 10pm.
Gyms and non-essential shops may open.
May 17 – It is hoped that Scotland will move to Level 2
Up to 4 people from 2 households can meet indoors in a private home or public space
Please note the government has said international travel will not be achievable before 17 May.
Start of June – It is hoped that Scotland will move to Level 1
End of June – It is hoped that Scotland will move to Level 0



Mainland Scotland currently has a stay at home notice. This means Scotland residents stay at home except for essential purposes. This notice has been in place since December 26, 2020. Some restrictions have been eased, including: 4 adults from 2 households can meet outdoors, those aged 12-17 can meet in groups of up to 4 [no household limit], up to 15 people can participate in outdoor non-contact sports,

Some islands are at Level 3 [see below for level descriptions]. They are: Orkney, Shetland, Coll, Colonsay, Erraid, Gometra, Iona, Islay, Jura, Mull, Oronsay, Tiree, Ulva, all islands in the Highland area except the Isle of Skye.

Covid-19 rates are going down in Scotland and the rest of the UK. This is most likely due to the vaccine rollout and the current strict lockdown. Currently, over 1/3 of the population has received their first vaccine.

SCOTLAND RESOURCES

On a budget? Grab my Scotland Bucket List Planner

Organising a big trip? Grab my Ultimate Scotland Planner

Want to tick off all the must-sees? Grab my Must-See Scotland Essential Travel Planners

Have a question about travelling around Scotland? Join my Facebook groups Scotland Travel Tips and Scotland Travel Tips for Locals

Love podcasts? Listen to my Scotland podcast Life in Scotland

Want more Scotland? Join my exclusive Scotland community Secrets of Scotland to unlock bonus content

The current situation in Scotland: What’s open and what’s closed

If you’re curious about what the current situation is in Scotland, I’ve summarized the main points. There is a mixture of information for locals and those planning a trip. This section will be updated regularly as things change.

What’s open

  • The ‘stay local’ rule has been lifted and residents in Scotland can travel throughout the country
  • Parks and gardens are open for local exercise
  • Shops
  • Pubs and restaurants (with restrictions in place, closing early etc)
  • Accommodation
  • Tours and attractions
  • Gyms

Arriving in the UK

  • Everyone who arrives in Scotland must provide proof of a negative Covid test taken within 36 hours before arriving in Scotland.
  • Passengers arriving in Scotland have to pay £1,750 to quarantine in a room at one of six designated hotels. It’s £650 for an additional adult or a child over 12, and £325 for a child aged 5 to 12.
  • Passengers will have to have two covid tests while in managed isolation on day two and day eight. These need to be pre-booked before you arrive in the UK or you may face a £500 fine.
  • Passengers arriving in England from a country that is not on the red list can isolate at home for 10 days [you will still need a Covid test on day two and day eight]
  • Being vaccinated does not change the rules

Current rules while in Scotland

  • Remember the FACTS: wear a face covering, avoid crowded places, clean your hands regularly, maintain two metre social distancing at all times, self-isolate and book a test if you have symptoms.
  • No in-home socialising [except if you are helping a vulnerable person]
  • A maximum of 6 people, aged 12 and over, from different households can meet outdoors for exercise
  • Work from home if possible

The 5-tier system

Scotland has 5 Protection Levels [or tiers] to help control the virus. Each area in Scotland is allocated a different tier depending on the prevalence of the virus across Scotland. You can see what tier each area in Scotland is in here.

Here’s a brief overview of each tier:

Level 4 – Lockdown

Level 4 is essentially a lockdown order to stay at home. For stay at home guidance, click here.

  • Accommodation is closed for tourism and only open for essential travel
  • Restaurants are takeaway only
  • No in-home socialising
  • No use of public transport except for essential travel
  • Visitor attractions closed
  • Parks and gardens open for exercise

Level 3 – Very High [Scotland is currently in this level]

  • Travel throughout Scotland is allowed as long as the region you are visiting is Level 3 or lower
  • Accommodation open
  • Pubs and restaurants allowed to open until 8pm indoors [no alcohol] and 10pm outdoors [alcohol permitted]
  • 4 people from up to 2 households can meet indoors at a restaurant/cafe
  • 6 people max can meet outdoors from 3 households
  • Visitor attractions including museums, galleries and libraries open with safety measures in place
  • Parks and gardens open for exercise
  • Gyms can open
  • Non-essential shopping can open
  • Funerals can take place with up to 50 people [no alcohol]

Level 2 – High [Hoping to happen May 17]

  • Accommodation open
  • Pubs and restaurants open but must close at 10pm outdoors and 10.30pm indoors [alcohol permitted]
  • 4 people from up to 2 households can meet indoors at home
  • Visitor attractions including museums, galleries and libraries open with safety measures in place
  • Parks and gardens open for exercise
  • Non-essential shopping open
  • Cinemas, amusement arcades and bingo halls can open
  • Outdoor contact sport and indoor exercise classes can restart

Level 1 – Medium [Hoping to happen start of June]

  • Accommodation open
  • Pubs and restaurants open but must close at 11pm
  • 6 people from up to 3 households can meet indoors at a restaurant/cafe and at home
  • 8 people max can meet outdoors from 3 households
  • Visitor attractions/shopping open with safety measures in place
  • Parks and gardens open for exercise
  • Indoor non-contact sport can take place

Level 0 – Nearly Normal [Hoping to happen end of June]

  • The government will reassess this level closer to the time, but it’s expected this level will contain as much normality as possible
  • Possibility of office staff returning to work
Visit Scotland’s response to Covid-19

My personal take on when Scotland will be open for tourism

After the update on March 16, it sounds as though Scotland may return to normal by the end of summer! As of April 16, folk living in Scotland can now travel the country freely for outdoor exercise. On April 26, Scotland moved into Level 3 which means accommodation, pubs, restaurants, gyms, attractions and tour providers can now operate with restrictions in place. It’s so nice to have a bit of freedom after four months in lockdown!

Regarding international travel to Scotland, I think we’ll have to wait and see what happens, but the Scottish Government did say they won’t be allowing it before May 17.

I take this to mean Scotland may welcome international visitors from this date, but we will have to wait and see how things go first. International travel sounds more promising from the end of June. Personally, I don’t think international travel will be welcome until September/October at the earliest. On May 17 the government will be making another announcement, so we will probably have more information on international travel then. We’ll just have to wait and see.

But if things keep going well folk can start to get excited about the possibility of international travel in 2022!

Tips

  • When making NEW bookings for accommodation and tours, be sure to check their cancellation policy. Booking.com has a flexible 24-hour cancellation policy, but be sure to double-check each property before making a booking.
  • If you have existing bookings, check your cancellation policies for each activity, write down the deadlines and stick them on your fridge so you don’t forget to cancel or extend and lose your money.
  • When travel does open up again, be sure to book ahead of your visit. A lot of businesses will not accept walk-ins. If you have a pay a deposit, make sure you know their refund policy.
  • To see a graph on the current number of Covid-19 in Scotland, just Google ”Covid 19 in Scotland” and a graph will come up with the daily

Websites for up-to-date information

Scottish Government website: The first place to check is the Coronavirus in Scotland page.

NHS [National Health Service]: For up to date information on what to do if you are in Scotland and have symptoms or need to book a test, visit the NHS website.

News: For the latest news in Scotland, I recommend following the BBC.

Visit Scotland: Visit Scotland also has a page with helpful information and updates on the Covid-19 situation in Scotland.

How you can experience Scotland from home

  • Read my blog! There are tons of free articles on this website about Scotland that will help you with planning your dream trip, or to simply keep Scotland in you mind. This really helps me as a small business struggling to get through Covid!
  • Read these books about Scotland. One of the best forms of escapism is through a book! I made a list of my favourite books about Scotland- these should keep you going for a while.
  • Re-watch Outlander. I know I am!
  • Test your knowledge with my Scotland Quiz! You can even use it to host your own Zoom quiz night with your pals.
  • Start planning your trip early so when travel opens up, you’re ready to book! My Scotland travel planners will help you plan your perfect trip.

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ABOUT YVETTE

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Hello, I’m Yvette and I’m from New Zealand. In 2016 I left home to travel the world; I met my husband after hiking the length of Scotland, and now we live in a wee Scottish village with our pup, Angus. I’m a full-time blogger and travel Scotland for a living! Read more about me here.

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